Startup du jour: ChipIn

STARTUP: ChipIn, based in Honolulu

ELEVATOR PITCH: Widget-based fundraising, launched this weekend

WHAT THEY DO: ChipIn provides easy web tools for setting up a fundraiser (free for anything under $10,000), helping other people promote it, and transferring funds. To make money, the company wants to expand its platform to measure other forms of social engagement online, but it’s not getting into specifics yet.

PEOPLE: A big portion of the (non-retired) internet entrepreneurs in Hawaii, including CEO Carnet Williams and web pioneer Kevin Hughes. Says Williams, “It’s pretty bad when you live in Hawaii and you’re as pale as someone who lives in Alaska.”

FUNDING: $1 million in angel funding from CommerceNet and individuals. Raising more money now.

COMPETITORS: Fundable, GiveMeaning, to some extent other social money startups like Zopa and Prosper.

THE DEAL: ChipIn started out with an “Evite meets PayPal” email system but found widgets were much more successful at provoking discussion and donation for fundraisers. The company also helps users set up webpages to manage and blog about their fundraisers. However, it doesn’t link these pages into an online community, instead looking to bring in visitors directly to its users’ individual widgets and pages.
A couple fun stories:

  • Though it might have been a nice demonstration of ChipIn, earlier this year Williams didn’t want to pay the transaction fees to receive the company’s investment money (much larger than $10,000) through his own system, so he set up a fake ChipIn just for the occasion.
  • The company suffered a setback last month when Hawaii was hit by earthquakes, killing power and crashing servers. However, it’s a good occasion to demonstrate how ChipIn can help after an emergency, with a campaign for the Hawaii Island Earthquake Recovery Fund (see it on a MySpace page).

The business model is fuzzy at best, and online fundraising is not a large, established market (save the hordes at Team in Training), but we like this company’s refreshing lack of interest in centralizing its social product as a destination site. ChipIn is right to realize it should think bigger, so we are looking forward the expanded “social engagement” measurement in version 2.